Cause for the Canonization of
Servant of God
"Apostle of the Alleghenies"
GALLITZIN REPLIES TO ATTACK ON CATHOLICS
The professed subject of his sermon on such a day was, or should have been, to excite his hearers to humility and contrition, and to a perfect union of hearts and exertions during the impending storm: but he, very likely alarmed at a much greater danger, of which nobody else but himself dreamed: alarmed I mean, and trembling for the ark of Israel likely to be carried off by those Philistines called the Roman Catholics; or alarmed, perhaps, at the very probable danger of an intended invasion from the Pope, who would, to be sure, avail himself of the confused state of the country to assist his English friends in the conquest of it, that he might by that means extend his jurisdiction; or in fine, alarmed perhaps lest our treacherous Catholics would take advantage of the times, and by forming a new gunpowder-plot, would blow up the congress-hall, state-houses, and all the protestant meeting-houses of the United States: alarmed, at least, by something or another, he suddenly forgets his subject, and putting on a grave countenance, enters the most solemn caveat against popish and heathen neighbours; cautions his hearers against their superstitions, and gives them plainly enough to understand that such popish neighbours are not to be considered their fellow citizens.
Attacks of that kind being so very common in this liberal country, I have always treated them with silent contempt. The present one, proceeding from a respectable quarter, I thought necessary to notice; and I expected that a few respectful lines, which I published in a Gazette, would have been sufficient to draw from the gentleman an apology for his uncharitable expressions. I found myself deceived in my expectation. After having waited in vain from September until some time in the winter, I made up my mind to send the gentleman the following DEFENCE OF CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES.
A DEFENCE, &c.
If, instead of accusing us in a general manner, you had been pleased to state distinctly in what particular points we are guilty of superstition, a great deal of time would have been saved, as my defence would be confined to those particular points of attack; but now, not knowing for which particular points the attack is intended, I must be ready at all points.
In order to ascertain whether we are or not
guilty of superstition, it will be necessary, in the first place, to give a
distinct definition of the word superstition. Many disputes originate altogether
in the misunderstanding of words, and might be entirely avoided by first
agreeing about the meaning of those words.
Superstilio (says he) est inordinatus cultus veri vel falsi numinis -- which I thus give in plain English: Superstition is an inordinate worship of the true, or of a false divinity.
To accuse us of superstition then, is to say, that we either worship the true God in an inordinate mannor, or that we worship false Gods, or that we are guilty of both.
To which of the tenets of the catholic church does any of these three modes of superstition apply?
I reply boldly, to none: and in order to convince you and your hearers that I am justifiable in saying so, I shall give you a short sketch of our catholic principles; but do not expect to find, arrayed amongst them, those pretended catholic principles which ignorance, prejudice, and, I am apprehensive, sometimes malice and ill-will, falsely attributed to catholics. This I shall say nothing about the infallibility of the Pope, the Pope’s power to grant licenses to commit sin, or dispensations from the oath of allegiance, about the worship of saints, and many other articles falsely attributed to Roman catholics, and which (I have too much reason to believe) are industriously propagated to answer certain iniquitous purposes.
May the great God give me grace to display
before your eyes, and before the eyes of the public, the beauties and
perfections of the catholic church.
By the help of natural philosophy, physick, anatomy, astronomy, and other sciences, many of the beauties and perfections of nature have been discovered, which give us the most exalted idea of the power and wisdom of their Creator; many more however are, and will remain wrapt up in mystery, and are thereby the better calculated to give us some, though faint idea, of the immensity of God. . . . It was created, we believe, for the use of man during his mortal life, to afford him a comfortable and happy existence. But, sir, man is not created for this visible world alone; his body was formed of clay, and his soul, his immortal soul, is the image of God, the breath of the most high: "And the Lord God breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul" --Gen. ii, 7. We believe that the soul of man was created for everlasting happiness; and that created to the image of God. With St. Augustine we exclaim-- "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord; and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."
We believe that, although created to the image of God, we may defile in ourselves that image, and thus remove ourselves from our original destination. We believe that we shall only then attain the object of our destination, if we try to keep up in ourselves that image undefiled; or in other words, if we try to be, and to become more and more similar to our Creator. "Be perfect (says our Saviour) as also your heavenly Father is perfect" --Mat. v, 48. We believe, then, that in order to become ripe for Heaven, we must try to keep ourselves pure and undefiled, shew the most perfect obedience to our Creator, the most perfect submission of our heart and understanding: practice humility, chastity, justice, and above all the most perfect charity; that is, we must love God above all things, and our neighbour as ourselves. The will of God must be always the only rule of our conduct; we must love what he loves, hate what he hates, and with due proportion do as he does; consequently, we must consider sin as the greatest of all evils; and be willing to sacrifice even life itself, rather than offend our Creator by a wilful transgression of his commandments. As Almighty God is infinitely just, infinitely good to all men, even to the worst of men, so must we be strictly just and charitable to all men, even to our enemies, without distinction of believer or unbeliever, Christian or Jew, or Mahometan, or Heathen, &c. In short, sir, we believe that, in order to become saints in heaven, we must lead a holy life upon earth; and that all the external acts of religion which we practice, can never afford a substitute for a holy and virtuous life. We believe and teach from all the catholic pulpits in the world, that confidence in external acts of religion, unsupported and unaccompanied by the practice of virtue, is a most abominable presumption and real superstition.
To convince you, sir, that such is the real belief of catholics, I refer you to all the catholic catechisms, prayer-books, meditations, sermons; in short, to all the spiritual books of any kind that ever were published in any part of the catholic world. Being provided with books of that kind from almost every catholic country in Europe, I readily offer them to the inspection of any person curious to ascertain the doctrines of catholics on so important a subject, on which misrepresentation has created so many prejudices. What more common, indeed, than to bear it said that a catholic, or if you choose a papist, puts so much confidence in his priest, that it matters little to him whether he commits sin or not; for after having broken all the commandments of God, he thinks he has nothing to do but to confess his sins to the priest, and behold, from the gulph of perdition he leaps at once into paradise!
Catholics, then, among whom there are thousands and thousands of men eminent for their genius and learning, men of the most transcendent talents, celebrated in all the different branches of literature; and, what is much better, famed for the most genuine, the most heroic virtue: Catholics then, I say, are believed, or at least represented, to be most brutally stupid! But let us proceed.
We believe that man, originally, created to the image of God, has in a great measure defiled that sacred image by tasting the forbidden fruit. We believe that, in consequence of that sin, which we call original sin, men fell under the curse of God, was not only driven our of the earthly paradise, but what is infinitely worse, forfeited his right and title to the happiness of Heaven; and we believe it was nor in the power of man to offer to the irritated justice of God, a satisfaction adequate to the offence. As the malice or iniquity of an offence must in a great measure be determined by the degree of dignity and elevation of that Being to whom the offence is given, God being infinite in power, dignity and perfection, the offence must be in some measure infinite in its malice: man on the other hand being limited, can have nothing to offer by way of reparation and satisfaction but what is limited in its value, and of course not adequate as a satisfaction. The wrath and the justice of God demanded a victim; all mankind must be sacrificed, must suffer, and their sufferings must be infinite; which they cannot be, unless they last forever, or a Being equal to the offended Creator must step forward and pay the ransom. As every act of an infinite Being is of infinite value, one word, one sigh from such a Being, would be an adequate satisfaction. Here then is the pivot upon which turns the whole Christian religion, with all its profound mysteries. Mankind being doomed to eternal torments, and not being able to satisfy God’s infinite justice within any limited period. Jesus Christ, the son of God, equal to his father, burning with zeal for his glory, and with love to man, offers himself as the victim of God's infinite justice. The ransom is accepted, and a new chance of Heaven is offered to man.
The main point to be explained now is, in what manner we believe that Jesus Christ has accomplished the redemption of man. This will, of course, exhibit all that catholics believe of the church of Christ, of the Christian religion and all its mysteries.
We believe that Jesus Christ, in order to
become a victim of propitiation for our sins, assumed human nature, which being
united to his divine nature, formed one person. As God, he could not suffer: by
becoming a real man, assuming a real human soul, and a real human body, he made
himself liable to sufferings; and by being God, his sufferings became an
infinite value, and of course adequate as a satisfaction.
We believe that Jesus Christ, immolating himself for our sins, acted in the capacity of a priest, a priest being the minister of a sacrifice: we believe that he is both high priest and victim –Heb. v.7, 8, 9 and 10.
Mankind having fallen by original sin into a wonderful state of depravity, the light of reason being almost extinguished, their understanding perverted, (witness the many ridiculous and abominable systems taught by their wise men and philosophers) their hearts corrupted and given up a prey to all the passions, Jesus Christ came not only to satisfy for our sins, and by that means to open for us the gates of heaven, what means we must take in order to obtain heaven.
We believe that in Jesus Christ we have a perfect example and pattern of a holy life, and an infallible teacher of salvation.
We believe that in the gospels is recorded a part, and indeed a very small part, of what Christ did and preached during his visible existence on earth --John xxi, 25.
We believe the authors of these gospels to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and therefore we believe every word contained in them as proceeding from the fountain of truth.
As we believe the gospel of Christ to be a divine book, so we believe that none but a divine authority can expound the same. We shudder at the idea of bringing that divine book before the tribunal of limited and corrupted reason; and we candidly confess, that although we were provided with a greater share of wisdom and knowledge than Solomon possessed, we should still be unequal of ourselves to the task of understanding and explaining the gospel, or other parts of holy writ. In this we are confirmed by St. Peter, who says, that "no prophecy of the Scripture is made by private interpretation" --2 Peter, i, 20.
As we believe that holy scripture is the word of God, so we believe that holy scripture misinterpreted is not the word of God, but the word of corrupted man; and that scripture is often misinterpreted, we are obliged to believe from the assertion of St. Peter, who tells us, that the unlearned and unstable wrest the scriptures to their own perdition, 2 Peter, iii. 16; and likewise from our own observations: for, as common sense tells us that the Holy Ghost cannot be the author of contradictory doctrines, so it tells us of course, that numbers of doctrines preached pretendedly from scripture must be false, as they stand in contradiction to other doctrines drawn from the same scripture.
We believe that true faith is indispensably
necessary for salvation.
We believe that Jesus Christ, requiring faith as necessary for salvation, must have provided us with adequate means to obtain faith; that is, to believe without doubting all those things which he has taught and instituted as necessary for salvation. If Jesus Christ has not provided us with such means, he must be a tyrant indeed; as he would require of us what we could not otherwise possibly perform.
We believe that Jesus Christ has established the holy catholic church for the above purpose, to wit-- as the supreme tribunal to regulate our faith; or in other words, to keep the precious deposit of Revelation unaltered; to explain to us (without any possibility of error) the meaning of every part of holy writ necessary for salvation; and likewise to preserve and transmit to posterity undefiled, all that part of Christ's divine doctrine, which was only delivered by word of mouth, either by Christ or by his apostles, according to these words of St. Paul-- "therefore brethren, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle" --2 Thes. ii, 14. We believe that the underwritten word of God, transmitted to us by tradition, is entitled to they very same respect as the written word.
We think it absurd to assert, that Jesus Christ has taught or preached nothing essential but what is written in the few pages of the gospel. We do not find in the gospel the instructions which Jesus Christ gave his apostles during the forty days that he appeared to them after his resurrection; and yet it is beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ during these forty days, the last he spent with his apostles, instructed them particularly in all the mysteries of his kingdom, or of his church --Acts of apostle, i, 3.
These last instructions which Jesus Christ gave his apostles before parting, and when they were about entering on the arduous duties of the ministry, these last instructions I say are not lost, although not recorded in the gospel: they form a part of that precious deposit entrusted to the church; and have, by an uninterrupted succession of pastors, been transmitted undefiled to our present days; and will be thus transmitted to the most regenerations, even to the consummation of time.
We believe, then, that the holy catholic church is the supreme judge in matters of faith, both to determine the true sense of scripture, and to settle our belief with regard to that part of Christ’s doctrine delivered by word of mouth.
Whenever the church has pronounced, the controversy is settled, doubts vanish, and we are as certain as if Jesus Christ himself had spoken.
This morning authority of the church we discover, 1st, in the positive and most unequivocal promises of Jesus Christ; 2nd, in the dictates of common sense.
1st --In the positive promises of Christ: "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" --Matt. xvi, 18.
If the church could possibly teach damnable errors, then the gates of hell could prevail against her, contrary to the above promise. "Go ye therefore and teach all nations -- baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost --teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" -- Matt. xxviii, 19, 20. Christ addressing his twelve apostles on the present occasion, evidently speaks to all his ministers, successors of the apostles to the end of time; which sound logic will find correct. Christ promises that he himself will be with his apostles, baptizing, preaching and teaching all nations until the consummation of time: now Christ cannot tell a lie; therefore it is evident that Christ has fulfilled his promise; and that during these 1815 years past, Christ has always been with his ministers, the pastors of the holy catholic church, and that he will continue to be with them to the end of time; and that he will accompany and guide them, when they preach his word and administer his sacraments.
"And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another paraclete, that he may abide with you forever, the spirit of truth" -- John xiv, 16, 17. It appears that Christ asked his heavenly Father to bless his ministers, the pastors of his church, with the spirit of truth forever: Pray sir, did Christ offer up any prayer in vain? And if his prayer was heard, how could the pastors of the church ever preach false doctrine?
"But when he, the spirit of truth, shall come, he will teach you all truth," John xvi, 13; "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," 1 Tim. iii, 15. If the church itself, as it comes out of the hands of God, is the very ground and pillar of truth, it will hardly want the reforming hand of corrupted man to put it right; it will always teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and instead of attempting to reform this the most precious of all the works and institutions of God, you and I must be reformed by it. To quote all the texts that prove the holy church of Jesus Christ to be infallible, or invested by Christ with a supreme and unerring authority in matters of faith, would be endless. I said this unerring authority even in the dictates of common sense. Yes, sir; common sense tells us that the works of God are perfect in their kind. Now the church being most emphatically the work of God, it most assuredly must be perfect: the church however, must be very imperfect indeed, if it wants the main perfection, which as our guide and director to Heaven it must have, that of always teaching truth, that of always supplying the wants of our limited and corrupted reason, that of always carrying before our eyes the bright and divine light of revelation.
Shew us a church which is not infallible, which owns itself fallible, wanting of course the main perfection which the church of Christ must have, and you shew us a church of corrupted man, not the church of Christ. Common sense tell us, that, without an infallible tribunal, unanimity in faith is a thing impossible. Without a centre unity, a fixed standard, and absolute and infallible tribunal, a living oracle to determine the mind, it is absolutely impossible, that men framed as they are, should ever come to one and the same way of thinking. Whoever renounces this infallible authority of the church, has no longer any sure means to secure him against uncertainties, and to settle his doubts: he is in a sad and perplexed situation, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
We are confirmed in the above suggestions of common sense, by our observation. Unity in faith we find no where but in the catholic church. Above a hundred millions of catholics, scattered over the face of the earth, are perfectly once in matters of faith, -- We meet from the most distant parts of the globe, ignorant of one another’s language, manners, customs, &c. yet our thoughts and principles about religious and its mysteries are exactly alike. Pray, sir, is that unity to be found among those who have shaken off the authority of the church? Since they have presumed to reform (as they call it) the catholic church, what do we see but one reformation or another -- hundreds and hundreds of different churches, one rising on the ruins of another, all widely differing from one another; each styling itself the church of Christ; each appealing to the gospel for the orthodoxy of her doctrine; each calling her ministers, ministers of Christ; each calling the sermons of her ministers, the word of God, &c. &c.
Common sense tells us, that the gospel, the written word, could not have been intended as the supreme Judge to fix our belief in matters of faith.
1st -- Because it may be misunderstood.
The many contradictory doctrines drawn from scripture, prove that it is often misunderstood, and even in matters which Christ declares a conditio sine qua mon of salvation. Witness the following:
"Except a man be born again of Water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" -- Joan. iii, 5.
"Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you" --John. vi, 54.
"Without faith it is impossible to please
God." --Heb. xi, 6.
Some find in the gospel the necessity of baptism for salvation; others find in it salvation without baptism.
Some find in it the necessity of receiving the flesh and blood of Christ; others find that Christ gave us nothing but bread and wine as memorials of his death.
Some find in the gospel that faith alone will save; others discover in the gospel the insufficiency of faith alone.
Some find in the gospel absolute and unconditional predestination; others reject it as impious and blasphemous.
Now, sir, are all these right? Or, will it be said that it is immaterial which of these contradictory opinions we embrace? No sir: common sense tells us that holy writ was not given us to be misunderstood, it leads us astray; whereas it was intended to guard us against the misfortune of being led astray. Common sense tells us, then, that scripture being a dead letter, is a dumb book, which cannot explain itself. Christ must have provided some visible and living authority, some supreme and unerring tribunal to explain scripture – and that this is, and can be no other than the church.
A second reason why scripture cannot be our supreme judge in matters of faith is, because there are many that cannot read.
A third reason. -- The gospels and epistles were not written for many years after the church of Christ was established and spread among many nations. For many hundreds years after that, the art of printing not having been discovered, the holy scripture could not be in many persons' hands; and yet during that time the precious deposit of faith was as well kept as it has been since holy writ is in the hands of every body. Yes, sir, and better: every body cannot read; but every body, learned or unlearned, can submit to the church -- transmitting to both, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, the doctrine of Christ, uncorrupted and in its primitive purity. Here, sir, is a mode of instruction adapted to every body’s capacity.
A fourth reason. – If I must make up my creed by reading scripture, I must be satisfied that the book which is put into my hands, and called the holy scripture, is really the genuine scripture as written by the apostles. I, a poor illiterate man, not having enjoyed the benefit of a liberal eduction, hardly acquainted with my own language, how shall I know whether the English bible you put into my hands, is a faithful translation of the original Hebrew and Greek, or not. I shall have to take your word for it! If I do, my faith then is pinned to your sleeve. But no, sir, I cannot submit to do so, because I find material differences in different translations of the scriptures; of course I am kept in suspense, if I know of none but a barely human authority in support of each of the different translations.
These are sufficient reasons to induce us to believe that holy writ (although certainly God's word) was not intended to be our Supreme Judge in matters of faith, and to convince us that Christ has provided us with a living, visible, and supreme authority, to settle all our doubts with regard to the true translation of scripture, the true sense of it, and likewise with regard to many other essential matters not to be found in holy writ, but delivered by tradition. We believe then, that the catholic church is this living, visible, and supreme authority; and if we are asked where we believe this authority resides, we answer in the body of Christ’s ministers, the pastors of the catholic church, and the lawful successors of those pastors whom Jesus Christ appointed, and invested with full authority to discharge the functions of his ministry. To that body of pastors we look for heavenly instructions; in them we see the successors of Jesus Christ invested by him with the same authority which he himself had received from his heavenly father: "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you." --John xx. 21.
In them we behold the organs of the Holy Ghost: "He that heareth you, heareth me" --Luc. X, 16. "And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another paraclete, that he may abide with you forever, the spirit of truth" --John xiv, 16, 17. “But when he, the spirit of truth, shall come, he will teach you all truth” --John xiv, 13.
Dear sir-- Are we guilty of superstition in putting full confidence in the above assertions and promises of Christ; and in thus believing that the spirit of truth never has, and never will depart from the pastors of Christ’s church? In our pastors, we behold men invested with the keys of the kingdom of heaven; that is, with the power of administering absolution, or the forgiveness of our sins --Matt. xvi, 19, xviii, 18; and John xx, 23.
To them we apply, and from their hands we receive our heavenly and spiritual food, the sacred flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which he enjoins us to receive –John vi, 48, 59; and which he enpowers his ministers to procure for us –Luke xxii, 19.
Can it be superstition, dear sir, to believe that our pastors are really in possession of the power which Christ himself asserts he gave them, and which he promises shall remain with them forever? Since Jesus Christ has pledged his sacred veracity for the existence of those several powers in the pastors of his church; and since he has likewise promised that the very fountain of truth, the Holy Ghost, shall be and remain with those pastors forever, we should think ourselves guilty of a great sin, if we refused submission of either understanding or will to their decisions and their precepts; and of a most daring presumption and diabolical pride, if we would, even for one moment, permit our limited reason to sit in judgment over the decisions and precepts to be guided by the Holy Ghost for ever.
Seeing then that the pastors of the church of Christ have always been secured by the infinite power of God against the danger of being led astray, and leading those under their care astray into false and erroneous doctrines, we rest secure under their guidance. -- Knowing that the most transcendent genius can never penetrate into the mysteries of the Most High, we, both learned and unlearned, take the easy, and only safe way of submission -- that path in which holy writ assures us, that the very fools cannot err --Isa. xxxv, 8.
It is perhaps necessary to observe, that we do not believe this unerring authority to reside in any individual pastor. No: the Pope himself, the successor of St. Peter, and the supreme pastor of the catholic church, is not by any article of catholic communion believed to be infallible.
This unerring authority is by all catholics believed to reside in the body of the pastors, united with their head. If it does not reside there, it resides no where on earth, and the plain promises of Christ are made void, and we are left to be "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine," which Christ meant to prevent in the establishment of pastors –Ephes. iv, 11, 12, 13, 14.
If we are asked how a body of sinful and fallible men can give infallible decisions? we answer, by the power of God.
How can there be life in a lump of clay? We find the answer in Genesis ii, 7-- "And the Lord God breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul."
How can there be infallibility in the decisions of a body of a body of fallible men? We find the answer in John xx, 22. "He (Jesus Christ) breathed on them, and he said to them, receive ye the Holy Ghost," &c. &c.
“The weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong” --I Cor. i, 27.
We readily grant, that men, even the most
learned, are fallible and subject to errors, whilst depending upon their reason
and their learning alone; and for this reason we believe, that not even the most
transcendent genius, improved by the most liberal education that can be obtained
on earth, will ever alone qualify a man to be a minister of Christ, a pastor of
souls, a spiritual guide to heaven, to pilot us surely and securely through the
raging billows of a tempestuous sea into the harbour of eternal peace. No, dear
sir, this would be for the blind to lead the blind: for, if after nearly six
thousand years of unrelenting exertions, human wisdom and philosophy have not
been able to penetrate into one, out of millions, of the secrets of this
material world, which in as short time will be destroyed by fire; -- how much
less can the limited understandings of even the most transcendent geniuses
penetrate into the dark recess of God’s sanctuary, where all is mystery; --
how much less, I say, can they comprehend and explain the profound mysteries of
this spiritual world, the Church, created for the soul of man, which is to last
for and ever, so long as God shall be God.
The ministers of Christ, in 1815, scattered over the globe, preach likewise one and the same doctrine, because Christ is still with them.
“I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” –Matt. xxviii, 19, 20.
The apostles of Christ received the confessions of the faithful. “And many of those who believed came confessing and declaring their deeds” –Acts xix, 18. They had received from Jesus Christ the power of forgiving and retaining sins” –John xx, 22,23.
The ministers of Christ in 1815 likewise hear the confessions of the faithful, because they have no idea that Christ ever deprived them of that power.
The apostles of Jesus Christ submitted to the decisions of the whole church, because they knew the church to be guided by the Holy Ghost: Witness the first council held at Jerusalem, which settled the question about circumcision -- to the decisions of which all submitted.
"It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things." &c. &c. –Acts xv, 28.
The ministers of Christ in 1815 likewise submit to the decisions of the general councils of the church, because they know that the Holy Ghost is as much with the church in 1815, as he was immediately after her institution. In short, sir, we do not conceive why less spiritual powers should be attributed to the ministry of Christ in 1815, than in the year 100 or 300, &c. &c. --for at all times, and in all ages, the ministry is, most assuredly, intended for the same functions.
A minister of Christ in 1815 is a preacher of the truth as well as in the year 100; and the truth in 1815 is certainly the same as in the year 100.
A minister of Christ in 1815 is a minister of reconciliation, as well as in the year 100.
You will readily allow that men in 1815 are
sinners as well as in former years, and therefore stand as much in need, as in
former years, of those heavenly means and remedied which our blessed Lord sent
his apostles to administer. Thus, by baptism, they, in 1815, wipe away the stain
of original sin, as well as Christ’s immediate successors did. Thus also, by
absolution, in 1815, they wipe away the stain of actual sin, as well as the
ministers first appointed by Christ. It cannot be conceived the Jesus Christ
should grant the power of forgiving sins merely in favour of a single
generation, and should then (as if repenting of that grant) deprive all future
generations of the same favour and benefit; neither ought it to be believed; as
there is not a word from the mouth of Christ in favour of such a belief. We
believe then (even from the written word, without reference to the decision of
the church) that all the spiritual powers, originally granted by Christ to his
ministers, still continue with his ministers, and will to the consummation of
time. And we believe that any one, not in possession of those spiritual powers
which Christ himself declares he gave his ministers, cannot be a minister of
Christ: he may be a gentleman, he may be a man of learning, he may be what you
please, but most assuredly he cannot be a minister of Christ. I shall thank you,
dear sir, to point out to me how, in thus believing, we are guilty of
The true minister of Christ, dear sir, speaking in the name of his divine master, must speak with authority, with certainty, without any hesitation, on all the different mysteries of religion on which he is obliged to instruct his flock. Woe to the wretch who shall deliver his private opinions, his own uncertain notions, as the word of God; and thus often give poison for wholesome food; the productions of weak and corrupted reason for divine revelations.
The idea we have of a minister of Christ, you will perceive, is precisely the same which the first Christians must have had. Surely, dear sir, the church in 1815 must be the same as it was in the beginning: the same kind of pastors, provided with the same powers, administering the same baptism, the same Eucharist or Lord's supper; in short, all the same sacraments, and preaching the same doctrine.
This, I know is the great stumbling block for all those, who, within the last three hundred years, have separated from the holy catholic church. We believe that the ministers of Christ, those whom we call bishops and priests, have received the power of forgiving and retaining sins, which was given to the apostles according to John xx, 22, 23.
Pray sir, is it superstition to believe that our omnipotent and merciful God is as able and willing to continue that power in 1815, as he was to give it to his first ministers?
If we believed, that man, by his own power could forgive sin, you would be very justifiable in accusing us of superstition; for who can forgive sins but God, or he who has received that power from him.
We believe confession necessarily deducible from the grant of the above power. It cannot be conceived how a minister of Christ is to exercise his power of forgiving or retaining sins, unless he has an exact knowledge of the state of the sinner's conscience. -- This knowledge no one can give him but the sinner himself, as probably ninety-nine out of a hundred are sins concealed from the public eye; -- sins of thoughts or desires, &c.
The minister of Christ forgives in the name, and by the power of Christ. -- He cannot grant absolution or forgiveness them, unless he has a moral certainty that such is the inward state of the sinner, such his repentance, such his purpose of amendment, such his willingness to make restitution of property, character, &c. as to entitle him to the mercy of God, and to forgiveness from above.
The objections made against confession, and the power of forgiving sins, are so futile -- the benefits arising from that sacred institution so manifold and so solid – that it cannot be conceived how so many thousands were, and are, willing to be deprived of so valuable a blessing.
These benefits are so great, that even some of the most relentless enemies of the church could not refuse their encomioms to that holy institution. "There is not, perhaps, a wiser institution," says Voltaire in his remarks on the tragedy of Olympia, "The lawmakers who established mysteries and expiations, were equally studious to prevent the guilty from yielding to despair and relapsing into their crimes." This Voltaire, the greatest enemy that the church ever had, who spent his life in ridiculing the holy scriptures and all the institutions of Christ, who declared an open war against Christ -- this Voltaire, at the age of eighty odd, when in his last sickness, sent for a Priest to make his confession to him.
"Confession is an excellent thing," says the philosophical Dictionary, "a curb to inveterate wickedness. In the remotest antiquity, confession was practised in the celebration of all the ancient mysteries; we have imitated and sanctified this wise practice; it is excellent to induce ulcerated hearts to forgive -- and to make thieves restore what they have unjustly taken from their neighbour." The Lutherans of the confession of Augsbourg, have preserved that salutary institution. Luther himself would not suffer it to be abolished. "Sooner (says he) would I submit to the papal tyranny, than let confession be abolished." --It is confession that the sinner discovers to the minister of Christ, the physician of his soul, all his spiritual maladies, his weaknesses, his temptations, his inclinations, his doubts, the scruples of his conscience, his apprehensions, &c.; and it is there he finds comfort, encouragement, advice, instructions, remedies against temptations; in short, every thing that is necessary to cause him to forsake the ways of perdition, and with the prodigal son to return to his father. -- It is there sir he is told of his obligations; it is there he is made sensible of the impossibility of obtaining forgiveness, unless he restores what he got by stealing, cheating, usury, or by any kind of injustice; unless he is reconciled with his adversary: unless he forsakes the occasion of sin. It is there he is reminded of the vanity of earthly pleasures of the shortness of time, of the dreadful punishments prepared for sinners by the infinite justice of God, and of the incomprehensible blessings of which the mercy of God has prepared for his saints.
Hush into silence your prejudices; listen and adore; humble yourself with St. Paul into the very dust; pray for light, and you shall see it brighter than the dazzling ray's of the mid-day sun. Ask for grace to overcome human respect, and all carnal considerations, (those obstacles which Satan raises to prevent the conversion of millions) and that grace will be imparted to you. Seek the kingdom of Heaven, (by which, in scripture-language, is often meant the church of Christ -- the catholic church as yet in a state of suffering, persecuted, ridiculed, tried like gold in the furnace; as yet, wandering through the dreary and frightful desert, but on its way to the land of promise) you will find -- and with it you will enter the mansions of eternal peace. That you and all your hearers may obtain that blessing of blessings, is the sincere desire, and shall be the constant prayer, of
Your humble and obedient servant,